Politics & Government

Battle for control of the Kentucky House kicks off with 45 contested elections

Fewer than half of the 100 seats in the Kentucky House will be contested in this year's general election as Democrats and Republicans battle for control of the chamber.

Republicans have not held control of the House since 1921 but have inched within five seats of regaining the majority in recent years. Democrats now outnumber Republicans in the House 54-46.

A flurry of House candidates filed Tuesday at Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes' office in the state Capitol, creating 45 contested House races this fall.

With more than 600 candidates seeking state and federal offices, Grimes noted there were twice as many candidates running in 2014 as in 2012.

"We are very excited about the number of individuals, especially first-time candidates, that have come out to be a part of this process," Grimes told reporters after ceremonially shutting the door to the elections office at 4 p.m. "As the chief advocate for civic engagement, I believe Kentucky is at its best when everybody participates."

While Republicans have been optimistic about their chances of retaking the House for the first time in almost a century, Democrats were crowing Tuesday evening that Republicans had failed to field the candidates necessary to win control.

Pointing to the increasingly conservative western part of the state, Democrats were surprised and thrilled to see that Republicans had failed to find candidates to challenge several incumbents.

Steve Robertson, chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, said Democratic happiness at the field was "humorous" and misguided.

"There are 45 districts out there where the battle for the majority will be waged," Robertson said. "We feel very good about the candidates. We feel very good about the districts."

In Fayette County, a number of first-time candidates emerged Tuesday to take on incumbents. Of the six House seats contained entirely within Lexington, three incumbents will have challengers:

■ Republicans Richard Marrs and Lavinia Theodoli Spirito will battle in the May primary to take on Democratic Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo in Lexington's 76th District.

■ Two Republicans — Urban County Councilman George Myers and Ken Kearns II — will battle to challenge Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom in the 79th District.

■ Democrat Creasa Reed, a Lexington health advocate, filed to challenge Republican incumbent Robert Benvenuti in Lexington's 88th District. "I want to make a difference," Reed said. "I want to concentrate more on helping the right people that need the help."

■ In the 77th District, the winner of a Democratic primary between former Urban County Councilman George Brown Jr. and Fayette County Magistrate Michael Haskins will replace Democratic Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, who is not seeking re-election.

■ Republican Rep. Stan Lee in the 45th District and Democrat Rep. Kelly Flood in the 75th District drew no opponents.

In Madison County, banker Bonnie Linnemeier filed to run as a Republican against Democratic incumbent Rita Smart of Richmond in the 81st District. Linnemeier would have won the Good Samaritan Award on Tuesday if there were one. She also brought to Frankfort the filing papers of her Republican primary opponent, C. Wesley Morgan.

U.S. Senate

While U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Grimes and Louisville businessman Matt Bevin have dominated talk of this year's Senate race, both parties will have crowded primaries.

Three Democrats — Burrel Charles Farnsley, Gregory Brent Leichty and Tom Recktenwald, all of Louisville — will challenge Grimes for the Democratic nomination.

In addition to Bevin, three other Republicans — James Bradley Copas of Lexington, Chris Payne of Salvisa and Shawna Sterling of Bethel — filed for a chance to knock off McConnell in the May 20 primary.

A lifelong Republican, a pastor and a 2008 supporter and organizer for President Barack Obama, Sterling choked up after filing candidacy papers, having found her last necessary signature Monday.

"I want to show that you don't need a million dollars to fight for Kentucky or for its citizens," Sterling said. "I'm excited because I got my signatures, but I also know that I've got a big fight ahead of me, which I'm in for. I'm ready to go."

State Senate

Half of the state's 38 Senate seats are up for election this year. They are in the even-numbered districts.

Republicans are expected to keep control of the Senate, where they now outnumber Democrats 23-14, with one independent.

Several Senate battles are brewing in Central Kentucky.

In Lexington's 12th Senate District, Kathy Warnecke Ryan filed as a Democrat to challenge incumbent Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr.

Ryan, whose husband, Michael, was one of 49 victims in the 2006 crash of Comair Flight 5191 at Blue Grass Airport, previously lobbied the legislature to allow spouses who lose their loved ones to recoup damages for that loss.

"I've thought about it for a long time, and now just seemed to be the right time," Ryan said after filing. "Senator Kerr is a very nice person, I think, though I'm a Democrat, and she's been in this office a long time."

In the 28th Senate District made up of Clark and Montgomery counties and part of Fayette, Senate Democratic Leader R.J. Palmer of Winchester is facing Republican Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, putting rumors to rest that Palmer was going to file at the last minute to challenge U.S. Rep. Andy Barr. (No additional candidates filed to challenge Barr, leaving the task to Democrats Elisabeth Jensen and Geoff Young.)

Republican incumbent Jared Carpenter is being challenged by Michael S. Cope of Richmond in the 34th District, made up of Madison and Rockcastle counties and parts of Fayette.